Among the several ailments a baby may have, cradle cap is a relatively easily treatable one. Our expert discusses the problem and suggests ways to treat it.
By Dr Aditi Shah
Cradle cap, also called infantile seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp, is a common scalp condition in babies which mostly begins in the first month of life and may be troublesome till the first year. The baby develops diffuse scaling and crusting of the scalp skin most often without itching and the baby is very comfortable and not in pain or any discomfort.
The exact reason for cradle cap is not known. Some hormones passed from mother to baby if in excess stimulate extra production of sebum (oil) in the oil glands and hair follicles in the scalp.
A fungus (yeast) called malassezia grows in this sebum and causes crusting.
Sometimes, there could be a secondary bacterial or candida infection in these crusts.
Cradle cap looks like a lot of dandruff with yellow greasy, scaly patches and crusts diffusely distributed on the scalp. When the scales become flaky and dry, they come off, often with bits of hair attached. But do not worry as once this condition resolves, new hair follicles grow.
It may coexist with atopic dermatitis in which case there will be weeping scales and lots of itching and irritability.
It may spread to the face, eyelids, behind the ears, armpits, diaper area and in between the fingers and toes.
In sick children with severe systemic diseases like histiocytosis and immunodeficiency, cradle cap presents along with multiple other disease symptoms and signs such as high fever, poor weight gain, liver swelling, jaundice etc.
Cradle cap usually does not require any medical treatment. It clears up on its own in a few months or in some cases stays for up to a year. No lab tests are required to make a diagnosis. When the crusts fall off, new crusts may or may not develop. Following are different ways of managing the cradle cap:
Take your baby to the doctor if the scaling is too severe, or there is bleeding or it spreads beyond the scalp. Also seek medical advice if the cradle cap is not resolving after good oiling and shampoo.
Do not use over-the-counter cortisone or antifungal creams without consulting a doctor as these products may be toxic when absorbed through the baby’s skin.
This condition is not contagious. It does not occur because of poor hygiene or allergies.
The author is a Consultant Pediatrician at Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai.
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